On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 17 in China’s Liaoning province, a 22-year-old woman unnamed by the media was arguing with her boyfriend about the World Cup. He wanted to go out all night and watch it; she didn’t want him to.
The same argument has been played out between couples all over China as the country has become engulfed in World Cup fever, despite China not qualifying for it. In Xiangyang a group of women sported skimpy shorts and football bras for photographers as a jokey “protest” about being ignored by their boyfriends. In stark contrast, the Liaoning province woman jumped off a nine-story building, killing herself.
Xiao Cai, a 21-year-old female student from Wuxi, Jiangsu province faked her own kidnapping and tried to get ransom money from her parents to pay off football betting debts, attempting to convince them that she’d be sold into the sex trade if they refused to pay 20,000 Yuan (£1,880). She fled to Shanghai, where police found her watching a World Cup match.
While cases of suicide suggest underlying mental health problems, medical experts in China have still pointed to the World Cup as a trigger that is causing deaths that would otherwise have been avoided.
“During the World Cup many people find that their mental disorders return because of emotional swings,”said Zuo Jing, doctor at the Hunan Province Brain Hospital in the city of Changsha.
Recent World Cup-triggered deaths in China have not been limited to those attributed to mental issues. With group stage matches kicking off at midnight, 3am and 6am fans have been forfeiting sleep to watch them. With many Chinese having no experience of binge-viewing to this extent, the experience has resulted in fatal physical ailments for some.
One 39-year-old man from Shanghai, surname Zhou, stayed up for three nights in a row to watch games. He collapsed watching Uruguay Vs Costa Rica, with doctors declaring the cause of death a brain hemorrhage. The previous day a 25-year-old man from Suzhou, Jiangsu province was found dead in front of his TV after watching matches, with doctors citing lack of sleep as the cause. 51-year-old former professional goalkeeper Li Mingqiang, from Dalian in Liaoning province, died whilst watching Holland vs Spain, suffering heart failure.
Doctor Zuo and his colleagues in Hunan were so concerned by the ailments they observed that they opened a “World Cup clinic”, where they treat more than ten people a day. One 29-year-old male patient suffered from serious cerebral infarction – a kind of stroke – whilst one 30 year-old man started hallucinating after an all-night session and jumped out of a second floor window.
With only the quarter-finals, semi-finals, third place playoff and the final left to play, cases of World Cup-triggered deaths should become less common. Still, many will see it as a blessing that the 2018 tournament will be held in China-bordering Russia, at least promising a less punishing kick off schedule next time round.